The Myth of Unfair Paychecks

A difference in pay does not prove discrimination.

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As any debater knows, defining the issue is a major part of the battle. On Tuesday, Democrats failed to persuade the Senate to approve the Paycheck Fairness Act. What are we to conclude from that outcome? That paychecks will be unfair, to the detriment of America's working women.

That's the claim of those supporting the legislation. President Barack Obama said it would merely mandate "equal pay for equal work." Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada warned beforehand that failing to pass the bill would send "the message to little girls across the country that their work is less valuable because they happened to be born female."

On Rachel Maddow's blog, the complaint was that women are "still only making 77 cents for every dollar men earn in similar jobs," but Republicans "seem indifferent to the problem."

This is a myth resting on a deception. The Washington Post's official Fact Checker faulted Obama's claim, noting that "there is a wage gap, but it has declined over the decades—and depending on how the data are viewed, in some cases it barely exists."

A difference, in any event, does not prove discrimination. Most Broadway theatergoers are female, but not because playwrights have an animus toward males. The gap reflects many benign factors stemming from the choices voluntarily made by women and men. Same with the pay gap.

Women, on average, work fewer hours and are more likely than men to take time off for family duties. A 2009 report commissioned by the U.S. Labor Department concluded that such "factors account for a major portion and, possibly, almost all of the raw gender wage gap."

"The gender gap shrinks to between 8 percent and 0 percent when the study incorporates such measures as work experience, career breaks and part-time work," Baruch College economist June O'Neill has written.

Statistical analysis, however, cuts no ice with some. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., ridicules those skeptics who cite such inconvenient evidence: "They're basically saying women choose to be paid less than men."

Not exactly. I didn't volunteer to be paid less than a big law firm partner or corporate CEO—but going into journalism assured that I would be. Women don't go to the boss and request a smaller salary, but many of them make choices that lead to that outcome.

A fact sheet from the American Association of University Women (which favors the bill) acknowledges that "10 years after graduation (from college), 23 percent of mothers in our sample were out of the workforce and 17 percent worked part time. Among fathers, only 1 percent were out of the workforce, and only 2 percent worked part time." It's safe to assume that men who make similar work decisions experience similar consequences.

You could argue that oppressive social conventions saddle mothers with the main responsibility for this task. But given the drastic changes in sex roles and expectations over the past half-century, why should we assume that this one is being forced on women? If they tend to place greater importance on child-rearing than men, they will be more inclined to interrupt their careers, even at a sacrifice in long-term earnings.

Pay differences stemming from factors within the control of females are a "problem" only if you define them as one. By that logic, we need a Higher Education Fairness Act because men earn only 43 percent of all bachelor's degrees and 40 percent of master's degrees.

If universities are taking steps to discourage guys from enrolling, it's a problem that may be amenable to government action. But if the imbalance is the result of males skipping college in favor of other options, there is no social injustice to undo.

What the alleged gender pay gap reflects is the interaction of supply and demand in a competitive labor market. Even in a slow economy, companies that mistreat women can expect to lose them to rival employers.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would upend these processes, with the government and courts assuming responsibility for what each worker should be paid, according to Harry Reid's standards of justice and fairness. Every salary decision would be fraught with the dread prospect of litigation—promoting rigid pay scales simply to minimize the liability risk.

The result would be a less nimble and efficient economy, which over time dampens productivity improvements and stifles wage growth. The effect on paychecks? Not fair, but foul.

Steve Chapman blogs daily at newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/steve_chapman.

NEXT: Meanwhile, 2,000 Miles From Wisconsin, Public Sector Pensions Drive 292,000-population City to Brink of Bankruptcy

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  1. You’re just saying that cause you’re a tool of the Patriarchy Steve!

  2. There’s also a massive difference in work injury and fatality rates. See slide 10 from the BLS report. Women work 44% of all hours overall, but only suffer 8% of workplace fatalities.

    1. We clearly need a workplace fatality fairness act.

      If there is a disparity in pay between women and men (and I am not convinced there is), it can only exist because women are willing to work for lower pay.
      If a woman thinks a pay offer is too low, she should not accept it. If she accepts it, despite thinking it is too low, that is still her choice.

      1. Obviously she made the wrong choice, and government needs to step in and stop her.

      2. There is some evidence of an actual pay disparity when men and women make comparable career choices. Inconvienently for the equal pay people, women are paid more than men.

  3. This is a myth resting on a deception.

    What from the left isn’t?

  4. These types of discussions will always be ripe for manipulation as long as we continue to view people as members of groups rather than individuals and have a government that can violate voluntary association.

    1. true. My wife maintains that any woman who finds herself making less than a man has only herself to blame. Her contention is that men view salary negotiation as a game and actively seek a higher number while many women are content to just get a job offer.

      1. I was thinking the same thing. The researchers found there was still a small gap once you properly control for objectively measureable life decisions. I’ll bet simple aggressiveness accounts for the remainder.

  5. “the message to little girls across the country that their work is less valuable because they happened to be born female”

    Couldn’t they come up with some clever acronym so it could be called The PRINCESS Act?

    1. Sure thing.

      Promoting Reform of Imbalanced National Compensation to End Sexual Segregation

      Try a harder one next time.

      1. You have a genuine gift, sir.

        1. Gift, problem; toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe

          1. Ok, now you need to come up with MORTAL KOMBAT for the soon-to-come workplace fatality fairness act. GO!

            1. Mandating Organized Reform Through Linear Kompliance Offsetting Male Business Accident Trends

              1. Altruistic* damn

        2. Do you work for the gubmint?

          1. I’d kill for that kind of job security, but government work is not for me.

    2. The “Paycheck Fairness Act” takes second place only to the “Reasonable Profits Board” as the recent Democratic idea that sounds like something Ayn Rand made up in Atlas Shrugged.

  6. My fiancee’ was out of work for a while and eventually took the job that she took, at less money than other offers, precisely because they allowed her significant flexibility with her schedule. She wants to be a part of her daughters’ lives. She chose this and absolutely accepts it.

    Why is this so hard to understand?

    1. I could see a man doing this as well. In other words, every individual has his own unique value system that he/she consults when making decisions. Arbitrary groups for these types of statistics are at best conversation fodder and at worst tools for government coercion.

      1. Every single male graduate of ivy league schools who DIDN’T go into banking is an example of this. The work is hell but it’s a sure path to millions if you put in your dues.

    2. Why is this so hard to understand?

      because this story is about Congress, where personal lifestyle choices and individual decision-making are foreign concepts. Just think if every woman (or man) was like your fiancee, making her own decisions based on her own needs. What would our wanna-be lords and masters do then?

  7. When you see the word “fair” in legislation, you know it’s got to be chock full of stupid.

    1. Yup. It’s pretty much a synonym.

      1. Fairly Asinine and Idiotic Regulations.

  8. Statistical analysis, however, cuts no ice with some. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., ridicules those skeptics who cite such inconvenient evidence: “They’re basically saying women choose to be paid less than men.”

    Schumer is such a fuckstick. These are the guys who mandate all of the extra goodies and benefits that employers must provide to special groups, then they turn around and say that it doesn’t count when you are considering overall compensation.

    1. Not basically. They are exactly saying that women, in aggregrate, value pay less than other factors when selecting a job.

  9. Who are the broads in that picture?

    Scary.

    1. Easier to be a career woman when no one will touch you.

    2. Barb Mikulski’s (D [aren’t they all?]-MD) the short, rotund one on the far right. I can’t remember her not being a senator in my lifetime.

      Yeah, she’s sooooooo in touch.

  10. Every once in a while I do have to admit there is a dime’s worth of difference between the parties and this is one of them. What a freakin debacle it would have been to pass this monstrosity. I keep forgetting that Rpublicans are indeed actually ever-so-slightly better than the Dems.

    1. That’s why we libertarian-minded folks need to ditch the fatally-flawed vehicle of the LP and infiltrate the Repuiblicans. I was just at a summer shindig at Number One Son’s soon-to-be university and talked with the head of the College Republicans. He’s a Ron Paul guy.

      It’s there, waiting for us.

    2. On some issues. Some of the time.

      It’s wise not to sucked into the Team Red/Team Blue rah-rah shit.

      The main difference I see is that the Democrats are more up-front about supporting stupidity, while the Republicans merely practice it.

    3. Yes there is a difference, however do not fall into the trap of thinking that it makes one party better than the other because even though it is true the Republicans are the only ones who stand to oppose crap like this they are also responsible for plenty of equally bad legislation on their side that only the Democrats stand to oppose.

  11. I remember reading an article about the “gender pay gap” a few years ago where they compared two physicians who graduated from medical school the same year. I think they may have been from the same school too, but I’m not sure. The author of the article was trying to argue that it was unconscionable that the male MD made double what the female MD, with the same amount of experience, made ($300k vs. $150k).

    The problem was the article made no mention of the fact that the male was a trauma surgeon who worked about 100 hours per week, while the female was a pediatrician who worked 36 hours per week. As far as the equal pay people are concerned, both physicians do equal work.

    1. So she is paid more per hour? Maybe this bill would give him a raise.

      1. The 100 hours was my guess based on the fact that he was on-call all the time. Maybe GM can shed some light on the actual hours that surgeons work. I just know it seemed like that guy was always at the hospital, while the pediatrician had a private practice office that was only open four days a week.

        1. She’s undoubtedly working more than 36 hours per week, even if the office is only open four days a week. Modern medicine is as much about paperwork as it is about actual medical practice.

          1. Isn’t the paperwork what secretaries are for?

    2. The problem was the article made no mention of the fact that the male was a trauma surgeon who worked about 100 hours per week, while the female was a pediatrician who worked 36 hours per week.

      Sure, but he works on the lowest difficulty setting, so she actually works more.

  12. Dems refuse to accept that men and women are different, that they view things differently, that they approach societal roles differently.

    My favorite character is the soccer mom, that poor forlorn waif who schleps the kids from one activity to the next, cleans the house, fixes dinner, yada yada yada. No one mentions that for every one of her, there is some guy working 60+ hours a week to pay for everything, often missing out on what the kids are doing.

    1. No one mentions that for every one of her, there is some guy working 60+ hours a week to pay for everything, often missing out on what the kids are doing.

      Don’t you understand? Working 60+ hours a week is a privilege! We’re lucky to be able to do that.

      1. Working 60+ hours a week is a privilege!

        I lost a job ~4 years ago and, after a few months on unemployment, I had two jobs and worked about 60 hrs/week. There were people who actually told me that, in an economy suffering from 8+% unemployment, I was lucky to have even landed just one!

    2. Yada yada yada? YOu skipped the best part.

  13. Unfortunately, this fits in all too well with the emerging concensus on the left (and all too much of the right) that choices and consequences – causes and effects – should be completely divorced from one another. Libertarians believe that the law should not judge people who haven’t violated anyone else’s rights. The leftists believe that reality shouldn’t pass such judgements. Of course, that’s not how reality works. And just becuase someone is able to evade the consequences of their choice, doesn’t mean those consequences go away. It’s just someone else, someone who made choices that result in different outcomes, is forced to incur those costs.

    1. Unfortunately, this fits in all too well with the emerging concensus on the left (and all too much of the right) that choices and consequences – causes and effects – should be completely divorced from one another.

      Exactly! See my comment below.

  14. Woman would probably make more money if they spent less time complaining and more time making sandwiches for the men.

    1. “Make me a sammich, bitch! Now here’s a dollar.”

  15. I’ve had a few conversations with women in my firm who seriously believe that it’s unfair for their compensation and promotions to reflect the fact that they work fewer hours, because tending to family needs are the reason why they work fewer hours.

    1. do they ever explain that to the others in the office who have to pick up the slack in their absence? Anyway, I thought the sisterhood was all about women having the ability to make whatever choices best suited their lives.

      1. Those bitches would be fired were I to have anything to do about it.

      2. I thought the sisterhood was all about women having the ability to make whatever choices best suited their lives

        You forgot to add “without consequence” to the end of that.

    2. It seems they have not grasped the concept of “work.”

    3. So, to summarize, your firm should defraud their customers by charging customers more for less work without letting the customer choose which rate to pay (for example, by wanting only male employees with a lower rate per unit work).

  16. good god, the minute americans decided it was the government’s job to deal with “unfairness” the wheels came off.

    1. +1

      In reality, it’s simply a more nuanced form of rent-seeking. The goal is to become a politically favored class of some sort.

      I need to figure out some way to spin “schlubby white guy” into victimhood, so I can get my Fair Share, too.

  17. I wonder… If the federal government mandates that a woman basically gets paid more, would employers simply stop hiring women?

    If so, I’m in favor of the aforementioned PRINCESS bill. Just to punish the idiots that think this is a good idea.

    1. Then quotas (by some other name of course) would surely follow.

  18. This whole thing comes from the very narrow minded viewpoint that women couldn’t possibly choose jobs for different reasons then men or have any different priorities, and that that is why the pay is different.

    Everything is based on equality in outcomes without looking at the choices made along the way.

    If there is inequality ie., discrimination, then that is where the attention needs to be focused. Otherwise we end up with yet another example of the left combating one inequality with another. Two wrongs still don’t make a right.

    What’s worse is that this isn’t a two-dimensional issue where putting more weight on one side, or boosting the other side balances it all out.

    1. This ‘solution’ (like so many other lefty solutions) is applying 2D teeter-totter balancing techniques to a three-dimensional problem.

      But this 2d/3d problem really just exposes the core of the left’s beliefs-there’s one way to do it right, our way; the other way is wrong. You’re either right or wrong, there is no ‘third’ way to accomplish the same goals we have.

      One hundred to one, if you talked to a supporter of this bill about women making different choices then men, they would tell you that “a woman wouldn’t choose to make less money then a man” or something along those lines.

      We hear this all the time in their arguments, where they presume to speak on behalf of everyone and attribute a singular goal to them. In this case, and a surprising number of others, it’s money.

      During the contrived birth control dustup, we heard about the ability of companies to pay for birth control, or how it was actually cheaper for them to pay for birth control. I don’t remember any companies or their insurers talking about being unable to afford to pay for birth control.
      Some companies didn’t want their money being spent on birth control, which is of course different then not being able to afford it.

    2. This whole thing comes from the very narrow minded viewpoint that women couldn’t possibly choose jobs for different reasons then men or have any different priorities…

      You’re much more charitable about the bill’s intent than I am. I think the bill’s supporters understand full well what you are saying. I think they simply don’t want those choices to matter when it comes time for the downside consequences of that trade-off.

    3. This whole thing comes from the very narrow minded viewpoint that women couldn’t possibly choose jobs for different reasons then men or have any different priorities…

      You’re much more charitable about the bill’s intent than I am. I think the bill’s supporters understand full well what you are saying. I think they simply don’t want those choices to matter when it comes time for the downside consequences of that trade-off.

      1. That is the other point that we see come up constantly, that the downsides of tradeoffs need to be avoided.

        People are free to do what they want, yet they should always be shielded from any “bad” (highly subjective) natural consequences that come from doing things their way.

  19. The money/affordability thing is something I notice a lot. For all the talk about the right, corporations, ‘big business’, etc., being obsessed with money, the left spends a lot of time talking about money and trying to “save” companies money.

    It might just come back to a deliberate small mindedness where they don’t understand that saving/making money at any cost or only making money in the short term isn’t the primary goal of all companies everywhere.

    I also wonder how much of the ‘profit at any cost’ type accusations are really just them projecting-either their love for money or assuming that since companies like money, those companies must be pursuing that goal with the same sort of by-any-means-necessary or ends/intentions justify the means mentality that the left pursues their goals. It’s one ruthless group assuming the other group pursues their goals in the same ruthless manner.

  20. “If universities are taking steps to discourage guys from enrolling, it’s a problem that may be amenable to government action.”

    Actually, it’s the other way around. Schools are encouraging men to enroll, because women don’t want to go to schools where there aren’t any guys.

    1. Kinda like a reverse ladies night? Only with women’s study majors.

      1. *studies

        I am disappoint.

  21. The article does not go far enough in pointing out that women of equal education and experience are paid more than men in many major cities. Apparently, the pressure is on to make the women “more equal.”

    http://hallofrecord.blogspot.c…..t-men.html

    1. Some people are more equal than others. Duh!

  22. “Women don’t go to the boss and request a smaller salary”…

    Right. On the other hand, men go to the boss and request a larger salary. Imagine if a male employee comes to me, asks for a raise, and justifies it. If I give him the raise would I also have to give it to any female in the same role?

  23. Actually, the commenter who joked about the ladies’ looks in the photo got it correct.

    This law is for unattractive women who can’t use their natural wiles to convince (without govt. fiat) anyone to take them seriously.

    The fucking history of mankind is littered with hot women flashing a smile and getting everything that they want from gullible men.

    1. So I should drop out of college and use my scholarships for plastic surgery? And let’s not forget that much of the history of mankind consists of men simply taking what they want from anyone they’re bigger than.

  24. While I am not a fan of heavy government regulation, I do acknowledge that this bill has a fairly legitimate basis. A woman who did all the same work as the men was paid less than the men she worked with. And she didn’t just sit around and complain about it, she took the issue to court. I cannot speak with authority to how the bill plans on implementing fair pay, but I do believe that something should be done to ensure that sexism does not reign in the workplace (or anywhere for that manner).

    One thing that bothered me about this article was the lack of facts. Chapman mentioned “drastic changes in sex roles” but provided no evidence as to how drastically these roles changed. As a matter of fact, the statistics about the number of mothers and fathers in the workplace seem to provide counter-evidence to his claim. He also failed to back the claim “It’s safe to assume that men who make similar work decisions experience similar consequences.” He could very well be right, but I’d still like some evidence.

    This article completely fails to address the massive gap in women in leadership positions. Women only achieve 16% of top positions in any given field (with the exception of the non-profit field, where they hold a whopping 20% of leadership positions).

  25. I absolutely agree with everyone who commented with something along the lines of women have to reach for the higher pay themselves. Men are far more likely to ask for raises than women, and there’s nothing the government can (or should) do to fix that. However, when a pay imbalance exists, it should be rectified. People are not always in a position to leave a job that treats them unfairly, and when they take it they might not realize it’s an unfair job.

    I believe that parenting duties should be split 50/50 (and that is largely the case in my families) and it really shocks me that that isn’t the case. And don’t blame women for that inequality, the blame is 50/50 there. Of course I completely support a woman’s right to be a mother first, but if she wants a career she shouldn’t let a family hold her back. Her husband can take care of the kids too. And vice versa if the husband wants to be a father first. Parenting is very important, but I really do not see why women are expected to be responsible for most of it – and don’t say that they aren’t. Any woman running for office is questioned extensively about how she will balance her family life and political duties, but male candidates aren’t. That’s sexism, plain and simple.

    1. I disagree with you. An employer has the right to pay you as much as he or she wants for whatever reason, even if she doesn?t like your nails. You say that parent duties should be splitted 50-50, thats ok, if you find a partner who thinks that way. But government has nothing to say in this. Government has no right to tell an employer how much to pay any of his employees. Besides, defining discrimination is usually so subjective that this kind of legislation only ends up serving lawyers who can make more and more frivolous lawsuits.

  26. And please, curb the sexist language. Oppose the bill if you like, but calling it the “Princess Act” likens a woman’s desire to be treated fairly in the work place to a woman feeling entitled to everything she wants. The one thing any human should be entitled to is fair treatment.

    1. I’m a woman and I think calling it the Princess Act is hilarious AND apt. Humans should be ENTITLED to fair treatment? And government should enforce it? SERIOUSLY? The fairness thing has really, really come too far. I’m a stay-at-home mom who has a side career that I spend a lot of time (at night) trying to make successful. I have never once in my life felt that I was being treated unfairly because I am a woman. Never. Maddy, fairness absolutely cannot be legislated. Nor should it. It’s up to an employer to treat a woman “fairly” in the workplace. If she doesn’t like her workplace, she can find a new one. Or not. Her choice.

  27. I have noticed that the most discriminatory organization in America is the NBA. They mostly hire black guys who are tall and athletic. We need a law to provide short, fat and white people more oportunity.
    Seriously, the issue is that a company has the right to discriminate. If you are an employer and want to discriminate women and pay the less competition will make you regret it.

  28. The result would be a less nimble and efficient economy, which over time dampens productivity improvements and stifles wage growth. The effect on paychecks? Not fair, but foul.

  29. This bill was never meant to pass. They knew Rs wouldn’t vote for this POS, they wanted to create more ammo for the ‘republican war on women’ meme for election time. Cynical, disgusting.

  30. How about a little thought experiment? Let’s say that it was really true that women had the same value to an organization as do men. Every CEO in the world could crush the competition by hiring all women and reducing labor costs by 23 percent. Anybody running a company that didn’t give preference to women should be sacked by the board.

    To follow the thread a bit further, what would happen if suddenly CEOs everywhere realized that a cheaper labor force that was just as valuable to the organization was there for the taking? Obviously, competition to hire women would raise women’s salaries.

    This whole argument is more revealing of the economic ignorance of the left than of any systemic disparity. Stupidity pushed by the usual suspects.

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